The Worlds Of Philip José Farmer, Vol. 2: Of Dust And Souls edited by Michael Croteau. Book review

THE WORLDS OF PHILIP JOSÉ FARMER, Vol. 2: OF DUST AND SOULS edited by Michael Croteau, Meteor House Press, p/b, $25.00, http://meteorhousepress.com/

Reviewed by David Brzeski

The first section, ‘Lost Worlds’, is devoted to previously unpublished work by PJF himself.

The opening story, ‘What I Thought I Heard’ is a short-short science fiction tale with a nice twist in the ending.

Next, we get a pitch to publishers for an ambitious mainstream novel, called ‘Strangers and Brothers’. The book was never completed, but a chapter, ‘The Face That Launched a Thousand Eggs’, was shopped as a standalone short story (although this also remained unpublished until the debut issue of  ‘Farmerphile: The Magazine of Philip José Farmer’ in 2005).

This is followed by ‘Strangers and Brothers, Chapter V: Francis Urquart’. Though not as complete as ‘The Face That Launched a Thousand Eggs’, there’s still enough to hold the interest. Much of the material in this proposed novel is autobiographical and it’s especially fascinating for me, as a British reader, to experience this first-hand account of life in the American education system, with its Greek-named fraternities and such odd concepts as proms and “pinning”. We see this stuff in many, many US movies, but it’s somehow more real to read about it in this way.

The second section of the book, ‘Of Friendships and Influences’, consists of four non-fiction pieces, two by Farmer and two about him.

‘Remembering Vern’ is a heartfelt tribute to fellow ERB collector and fan Vernell Coriell, while ‘A Slender Tribute to a Big Man’ is an appreciation of Robert Bloch.

Of the two pieces about Farmer by others, we have, ‘The Importance of Being Unsophisticated’, by Charles Platt and ‘Repopulating Oz’, by James Sallis.

Part three, ‘Metaphysical Worlds’. Looks at PJF’s views on religion and humanity.

‘Faith in 2097’ is a speech PJF gave on what he thought faith might look like one hundred years in the future.

‘Religion in the Work and Life of Philip José Farmer’, by Thomas José Josephsohn, is a fascinating insight into how PJF’s thoughts and beliefs influenced his grandson.

In ‘Mark Twain and Kurt Vonnegut Versus Free Will’, Farmer takes a look at the philosophies of two of his literary heroes.

The final and most interesting article in this section is an update of a piece previously published in 1985, ‘From Rebellious Rationalist to Mythmaker and Mystic: the Religious Quest of Philip José Farmer’, by Edgar L. Chapman. This piece had an effect on me similar to that of reading PJF’s fictional biographies, in that I found myself making a list of books I want to read, or reread..

As in the first volume, ‘Protean Dimensions’, the final section, ‘Expanded Worlds’ is devoted to tales by other authors which take some of PJF’s most popular characters on new adventures. It comprises well over half of the book.

We open with ‘Dog Day Evening’, by Spider Robinson, in which the dog detective Ralph von Wau Wau visits Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon. A fun story, which left me wondering how Ralph came to be travelling with a mute guy named Joe and why he lied about his origins. Maybe someone will enlighten us in a future volume of this series?

This is followed by an equally fun tale, ‘For the Articles’ by Bradley H. Sinor, featuring private dick Kent Lane. Lane only appeared in one story, ‘Skinburn’, by Farmer, although he had notes for several more. Anyone reading ‘Skinburn’ and wondering about a certain familiarity in the name, will be even further intrigued by his possession, in this story, of a certain ruby girasol ring.

‘The Wolff That One Hears…’, by Jean-Marc and Randy Lofficier is an unusual ‘World of Tiers’ story, in that it’s set on Earth. The authors do a great job here of blending in actual historical events with the fiction.

I call myself a Farmer fan, but here is yet another extrapolation on concepts introduced in a PJF book, ‘The Image of the Beast’, which I haven’t yet read. I can only judge ‘The Beast Erect’ by Mary A. Turzillo as a standalone story. It’s a warped little gem, which reads a little like a cross between ‘Behold the Man’ and ‘The Rocky Horror Show’ with the training wheels off.

Thankfully, I have read, ‘Time’s Last Gift’, and recently, so I had no problems with John Allen Small’s ‘Into Time’s Abyss’, a story that takes a divergent path from the same starting point. I really enjoyed this one. The story is open-ended, so I truly hope it’s the first of many further adventures of John Gribardsun in this divergent universe.

From the beginning I was confident that the final story, ‘Kwasin and the Bear God’, completed by Christopher Paul Carey from notes left by Philip José Farmer, would be the high point of the book. As I read through the collection I had started to have doubts, as the general high quality kept on raising the bar. I needn’t have worried though, as ‘Kwasin and the Bear God’ is as good an example of heroic fantasy as you’ll find anywhere. I await the forthcoming novel, ‘The Song of Kwasin’, soon to be published in an omnibus edition with the first two books of the Khokarsa series as ‘Gods of Opar’ with great relish.